178 of 183 people found the following review helpful
Christopher Hibbert is an author who has written many history books and historical biographies and now turns his attention to that infamous family, the Borgias. It is worth mentioning that this book has been previously published as "The House of Borgia" and is now released as a kindle edition with a different title, so beware if you think it is a new book. Saying that, this is a very good introduction to the Borgias and well worth investigating if you have not already read it.
Rome is first described as the 'crumbling city' and the book describes the rise of Rodrigo Borgia. He was Vice-Chancellor of the Holy See when his uncle became Pope Calixtus III. When the Pope died, Rodrigo supported Pius II in conclave and his position of Vice-Chancellor was confirmed. The most talented of Calixtus's nephew, he was a Cardinal at 25, Vice Chancellor at 27, at a time when nespotism was rife. Rodrigo was certainly not above using nespotism himself, even more widely, although he is also described as both able and competent.
In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI at 61 years old. Never one to be shy about success he shouted "I am Pope! I am Pope!" to the crowd, amidst accusations he bribed his way to the Papacy. Despite criticisms though, he was affable, approachable and stopped the lawlessness left behind by his predecessor, Innocent VIII. He heard complaints himself, established prison inspectors and restored order. He was a mixture of traits - dignified, cunning, shrewd, intelligent, ambitious, immodest and vicious. Borgia had apartments decorated with gilded stucco work, such as that discovered in the remains of the Golden House of Nero, yet kept a frugal table. An ambitious Pope - rich, politically astute, determined to establish his family among the European ruling elite and unusual in that he acknowledged his children and worked to improve their status and chances in life.
This then is the story of the Pople and his infamous children - Juan, Jofre, Cesare and Lucrezia. Cesare and Lucrezia are, of course, the most infamous. Hibbert recounts the stories and legends which abounded then - orgies, nespotism, bribery, poison, incest. We follow the rise and fall of both Rodrigo and Cesare and the life of Lucrezia through her three marriages. A very interesting book and great introduction to a fascinating family and era in history.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
I noticed that there were a lot of mixed reviews for this book when I came to review it, some people saying that the book is an interesting, good introduction to the Borgias, others complaining that the book is boring and focuses on trivial detail whilst refraining from passing judgement on its eponymous subject. I think both camps are right about this one, and that has caused me to consider this book's intended readership.
The book is a largely descriptive narrative of the rise and fall of the Borgias, drawing upon a selection of primary and secondary sources to present events in a fairly standard, chronological layout. The book does not delve into a critical examination of the sources themselves, or provide any analysis about the debates and controversies surrounding the Borgias. That said, I felt the writing style flowed and it was altogether an easy read.
In conclusion, I think potential readers need to consider whether this book is for them before picking it up. If you know little to nothing about the Borgias and want to expand your knowledge, fill in your gaps, and do so with a nice, straightforward read, this is indeed a good book for what you've got in mind. However, if your knowledge of the Borgias is a bit more extensive, and/or you're more of a serious scholar or enquiring historian, this book won't fit the bill because it won't provide the in depth quality and analysis you're looking for. It is a fairly good introduction to the Borgias, but that's all it is.
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2011
Christopher Hibbert has a high and long-standing reputation for writing on a very wide range of historical subjects, and I approached 'The Borgias' with the confidence of many good reads behind me. I was disappointed.
Perhaps he suffered from his collaborator, who may not have had his knowledge and credentials. Perhaps he was bound hand and foot by the publisher`s brief to write a particular kind of book. Perhaps he simply lent his name to a book written largely by somebody else. I don`t know. But, whatever the reason, the book did not come up to the high standards we have come to expect from him.
It was as if he had been commissioned to write a scandal-sheet about the Borgias. We were inundated with details of journeys, furnishings, banquets, murders, intrigues, fashions, and clothes, and swamped with unfamiliar Italian names.
There did not seem to be any attempt made to pass any kind of judgment on Alexander VI`s pontificate. There was not a single mention of two of the most important events of it, namely, the discovery of America, and the famous Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world into two spheres of influence for Spain and Portugal. The single reference to Columbus was to attribute the spread of syphilis to the return of his sailors from a disease-infested New World - so we are back to the scandal-sheet again. Cesare Borgia, Alexander`s son, who looked as if he might be a really influential figure, does not emerge as any kind of a statesmen (at any rate no attempt is made again to assess his statesmanship or lack of it), and he suddenly disappears from the narrative as a random casualty of a war, with no obituary, no comment, no judgment.
The notorious rumours about the Pope`s sexual life, particularly his alleged relations with his daughter, is of course referred to - more than once - but no attempt is made to assess the evidence.
One could go on. If you want a wallow in sleaze and innuendo, and an interminable chronicle of luxury, opulence, greed, and treachery, then jump in. But you won`t learn a great deal of history.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2011
We have all heard of the Borgias but they have remained, for me at least, a shadowy family dimly linked to an Italian past. Hibbert brings this all to life and puts it all in context, from the observations of Machiavelli to the marriages of Lucrezia to the downright disgusting sexual behaviour and temporal greed of the Popes. Well written, easy to read, this is history at the height of the Reformation of one of the most influential dynasties in Europe.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2013
For a tale of such a turbulent age, and the dominant, corrupt family of the age, Christopher Hibbert's The Borgias is a surprisingly heartfelt read.
Beginning with a brief, yet detailed, chronicle of the Borgia predecessors, Hibbert takes us immediately to the Borgia family that matters most, that of Rodrigo Borgia, later Alexander VI, and his children Cesare, Juan, Jofre and Lucrezia.
Hibbert spares few details, fleshing out and giving a real feel for the Italy of the day, and examining the nature of church and politics, something truly inseparable in those times.
Most of the work focuses on Cesare, and his military campaigns, focusing more on his time as a Duke, and less of his time as a Cardinal.
While the Pope dies two thirds of the way into the book, and soon after, Cesare, the remainder of the book focuses on Lucrezia, who comes across, less as the villainess that history has marked her, and more as a tragic character.
The Borgias is incredibly readable and one struggles to put it down. This is the third book this reviewer has read by the late Christopher Hibbert, the others been The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, and The French Revolution, and it certainly will not be the last.
In short, a gripping, yet surprisingly heartfelt, historical chronicle.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2013
This is a very good balanced introduction to the Borgia's, especially for those seeking an unsensationalised account. i recommend to anyone interested or beginning to have an interest in that period
on 24 May 2014
I've read this book twice now and have changed my mind a lot after the second reading. The first time I found some chapters interesting and others not so much. Throughout however, I found it a little dry and lacking in something.
I re-read it after watching the Showtime series The Borgias and playing a couple of the Assassin's Creed video games set in Renaissance Italy. Both of these are heavily fictionalised however I found myself wanting to know a bit more about the period so I decided to have another go at the book. I found it to be a much more engaging read the second time round. The reason being I was much more clued up as to who everyone was and how the politics worked.
Although the book doesn't go into intricate detail, it does give a good overview of the Borgia family for the casual reader. There are however a lot of dukes, kings, ambassadors, cardinals etc all squabbling with each other and seeming to change sides quicker than you can shine your shoes. This will make things confusing. Having watched the TV show however I found it much easier to put names to faces, and reasons to the fickle political decisions that abound in the period. Hence the title.
There are also times when the author seems to contradict himself. These instances are few and far between but nevertheless there they are. One particularly irritating example is when he describes an illegitimately born child who dies soon after it's born. He then goes on to talk about how the child is still alive several chapters later, getting it confused with another child of a totally different father. This was probably the main gripe I had.
All in all though it's worth reading. On its own it's a challenge but I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in the family. However I would seriously consider the TV show 'The Borgias' a watch beforehand. It will make the book easier to follow and it's a fabulous show too. For anyone wanting a solid detailed account though, or for more academic purposes, there are many more informative books on offer.
on 31 January 2013
Let's begin with Mario Puzo's THE FAMILY. Puzo has had a life-long passion for the Borgias, as have I. His book is both hilarious and hot. Take Astorre Manfredi. The kid was 18 and his brother 15. Astorre was the most handsome lad living at the time. Painters came from all around to do his portrait. He had also inherited a small kingdom that Cesare Borgia coveted. So Cesare convinces the kid to give him his spread in exchange for a few weeks in Rome, the then-equivalent to today's Vegas. Because Astorre knew he had no choice (due to Cesare's military superiority), he consented. The next scene has Astorre and Cesare in a hot tub (I'm not kidding!), although this one is of stone. Astorre puts his hand on Cesare's thigh, but Cesare gently moves it away, saying he's not that kind of guy (again, I'm not kidding). Later I'll tell you what happens to the most beautiful boy in Italy. Another scene: Cesare is in the apartments of his father, Pope Alexander VI, who's at his table writing. Cesare's caressing his sister Lucrezia but because he's not too gentle, Lucrezia calls for her father's assistance. This comes as no surprise since the old man is also an old pervert of the very worst kind (and as there's no real justice in life, he eventually dies in bed--he should have rotted in Hell, but there's also no Hell). The Pope her father takes over the caressing and then prompts his son to enter, deftly, nevertheless well-used portals, encouraging the boy to go gently by gently stroking his butt. One star.
E.R. Chamberlin's THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA is old but complete. We learn that slaves could be bought for as little as six ducats, that Tartars were the best workers and Russians and Circassians best for one's bed. Prostitutes died penniless, justifying the saying the `'Venus reduces her worshipers to her own nudity.'' We learn that the gorgeous Astorre and his brother were murdered `'after they had sated the lust of a certain person,'' that person being Pope Alexander VI. One of Cesare's lieutenants was such a tyrant that `'he had thrust a clumsy page boy into the fire, pressing him down with a foot while the boy burned alive.'' Chamberlin doesn't hesitate to reveal gossip concerning Cesare, that he killed his own brother Juan in order to have access to Juan's wife Sancia and because both brothers, jealous of each other, wished to continue incestuous access to their sister Lucrezia.
Ivan Cloulas in THE BORGIAS brings us this quote from a playwright: Do people say that I am both your father and your lover? Let the world, that heap of vermin as ridiculous as they are feebleminded, believe the most absurd tale. The great law of the world is ... to grow and develop what is strongest and greatest in us. Walk straight ahead. Leave hesitation and scruples to small minds.
Marion Johnson in his THE BORGIAS tells us that Cesare had addressed questions to the scientist of the papal court about poisons; he wished to know the ways of poisoning cups, perfumes, flowers, saddles and ever stirrups (!!!).
I did read Rafael Sabatini's book THE LIFE OF CESARE BORGIA, but found it a bit outdated (1929).
Christopher Hibbert's THE BORGIAS AND THEIR ENEMIES tells us about Manfredi: `'Four days later the corpse had been fished out of the Tiber, drowned by a stone tied round his neck. This young man was of such beauty and stature that it would not be possible to find his equal among a thousand of his contemporaries.'' About Cesare: `'Cesar had fallen sick again of that illness of his. Now the flowers (as the syphilitic rashes were euphemistically known) are starting to bloom again.'' When Cesare married: `'He had consummated the matrimony eight times, but these eight times consisted of two before supper and six at night.'' Concerning the Pope, Cesare and his daughter during an orgy: `'At the end they displayed prizes, silk mantles, boots, caps and other objects which were promised to whomsoever should have made love to these prostitutes the greatest number of times.'' When it was reported to the Pope that his new son-in-law was sleeping with others than Lucrezia (`'It was reported that he took his pleasure with other women during the day'') the Pope said, `'Being young it does him good.'' Naturally, this is my favorite book. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a brisk family biography which delights in retelling all the most scurrilous and decadent stories that still stick to the Borgia name: uncomfortably close family relations, murder, decadence, corruption and power.
In this sense it is an entertaining read, but it’s not one which re-evaluates the sources, or draws attention to their own biases according to the context and political allegiances of the writer.
If you’re a general reader looking for a gossipy re-telling of Borgia history then this is informative and entertaining.
on 31 July 2015
Read this book ages ago, but I still vividly remember feeling a bit disappointed. Not so much about the writing, rather my expectations of reading about shocking evil and unbelievable nastiness on the part of the Borgias were not met. How did this family ever achieve such notoriety, I wondered? After all, what they did was perfectly normal (well, almost) by contemporary standards: popes at the time were always corrupt, they always fought wars, they all had mistresses, nepotism was so pervasive that it was barely noticed, and Rome in general was a cesspit full of crime to which the Borgias' contribution, if any, was rather negligible. I find it hard to believe that any of the other families jostling for the papacy and its power, would have done much better. In fact, they did not do much better, as other popes proved. After all, there is a reason why the reformation happened....
The most shocking of the Borgias' alleged crimes (Juan Borgia's murder by his brother, Lucrezia's incest with her father) were never proven and were probably not more than gossip from the Borgias' many enemies.
Of course, Hibbert cannot be blamed for me not being as shocked as I hoped I would have been. Still, this book felt slightly bland. Surely there are better books about the Borgias and their times. This one is a very useful introduction though, being admirably compact.